Spend any time around the U.S. squad and you'll hear it mentioned constantly. One way or another, Jurgen Klinsmann is always making references -- some subtle, some direct -- to the Americans' depth chart, his staff's constantly changing internal pecking order of players at every position on the field.
Last week, upon naming a mostly-second string roster for the annual January training camp, the coach was at it again.
"The group coming in is the next line to challenge the players ahead of them in the national team," Klinsmann said in U.S. Soccer's official press release.
Where those players rank exactly isn't always clear. Sure, some of Klinsmann's depth chart is easy to figure out; Tim Howard is the obvious No. 1 goalkeeper, for instance, and Brad Guzan is the clear-cut No. 2.
After that, though, things start to get trickier.
Who is Klinsmann's top forward? Does Jozy Altidore's talent trump Herculez Gomez's hustle? Is left back Edgar Castillo really one injury from starting in a World Cup qualifier? The answers can change from day to day.
Then there's the question of what formation the depth chart should be based on. Should it be the 4-3-3 that helped Klinsmann post an impressive 2-0-1 record against Italy, Mexico and Russia in 2012? How about a variation of the more-familiar 4-4-2 that the U.S. often reverted to during tough qualifying matches away from home? Indeed, figuring out Klinsmann's depth chart ahead of the Yanks' Hexagonal opener on Feb. 6 in Honduras is complicated, which is why we'll try to keep it as simple as possible.
• Yes, the U.S. may opt for a more conservative posture in San Pedro Sula -- or may switch to one if the Yanks can steal an early goal -- but Klinsmann's preferred 4-3-3 formation is our default.
• Players who are injured or recovering from injury -- a list that includes Brek Shea, Chris Pontius and, until he plays a few more games for Bolton, Stuart Holden -- are not included. Neither is Landon Donovan, given his uncertain future in the sport.
Generally, most of the players listed here have received regular call-ups from Klinsmann over the last year, and in most cases there's a clear correlation between how much they played in 2012 and where they currently stand compared to others at their position. Of course, unanswered questions remain. Is the physical Altidore's hold-up play a better tactical fit against Honduras, even if Gomez played more for the Yanks last year? Is Timmy Chandler as committed to the program as he says he is? If he is, where will he play against the Catrachos? Klinsmann has shown a willingness to move pieces around to get his top performers on the field. Who does he consider his best players? Our best guesses are below.
USMNT Depth Chart 1.0
Striker: Herculez Gomez
Gomez established himself as Klinsmann's top pure forward in 2012, ending the year with 10 straight starts (three goals) for the Yanks. Heading into Honduras, the hard-running Mexican-based striker remains ahead of Altidore, who fell out of favor with the U.S. coach last year.
2. Jozy Altidore
Altidore, 23, won a recall and praise from Klinsmann after being dropped in October, but the longtime starter has much to prove after going scoreless for the Yanks last year. His club career, however, is flourishing.
3. Eddie Johnson
Two goals in two World Cup qualifying starts last October showed that the 28-year-old Johnson -- who played for the Yanks at the 2006 World Cup -- is back to his best and deserves to be in the mix during qualifying.
4. Terrence Boyd
So what if Boyd is still looking for his first U.S. goal? Klinsmann loves the German-born, Austrian-based 22-year-old, a rookie at club level who has shown steady improvement since making his U.S. debut last year.